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Obsessed: January 2013
16

TALENTI_SeaSalt_caramel_LG

Talenti Sea Salt Caramel.  You guys know I’m one for making as much as I can at home but I tried Talenti Sea Salt Caramel gelato over the weekend and flipped the heck out.  Martha Stewart Living highlighted it last summer, mentioning the price was $8 which I’d never pay for a store-bought dessert, but I found it in my grocery store for $4.29.  It’s still a little on the pricier side but I swear you won’t care about the price after you dig into this rich, silky smooth salted caramel gelato.  Except when you’re staring at the bottom of the empty container and realize you need more.  Stat.

Chrachel Cooks (Not Safe for Work or Little Ones unless you have ear buds/headphones – the language is a little “heavy” right from the beginning).  I came across this YouTube video a few weeks ago and spent nearly the entire 10 minutes cracking up.  At first I wasn’t sure if I should be horrified or flattered that a couple of college kids with an insanely popular YouTube channel would chose to video themselves making my cupcakes with the title of wtf is cream of tartar?! …but it’s all good.  Actually, it’s pretty darn cool to actually see how other people make and react to my recipes in their own kitchens…and make hand washing look sexy at the same time!!

Williams- Sonoma Goldtouch bakeware

Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch Bakeware.  My absolute favorite baking pans!  And hey!  They’re on sale this week - 20% off!  I’ve had a bunch of half sheet pans for at least 4 years now and even with heavy use, they have never chipped, warped (even in a super hot oven), or scratched.  I’ve added a few other pieces over time (the muffin pans consistently produce perfectly domed muffins and cupcakes) and I just ordered a few new 9″ cake pans yesterday.  I realize there are times when spending a little extra money on a product seems ridiculous when there are much less expensive alternatives available but I swear these pans will never do you wrong.  Just read the reviews.

 

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Evernote.  This app is my life saver!  It’s a virtual note-taking tool that allows you to create endless amounts of notebooks that you can clip ideas to – in text and with links, full web pages, photos, or voice recordings.  I’ve been using it for almost a year now and have been keeping those little jots of recipe ingredients and instructions as I make dishes (instead of scraps of paper that I always lose), ideas for blog posts, party and holiday menus, weekend to-do lists, shopping lists, and plans for our vegetable garden this year.  The app can be downloaded to PC or Mac and is available on Apple, Android, or Windows-based phones and tablets.  The BEST thing about the app is that it will automatically sync your notebooks between all of your devices that use the app.  It’s amazing!!  And free!!!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I have no affiliations with any of the companies mentioned here.

Obsessed: December
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I hope you all have been enjoying your holidays seasons!  No matter which holiday you may celebrate, this is a time to reflect and rejoice with your families and I know I’m looking forward to a few days off for some time to do this.   As I’m sure so many of you are in the midst of running around like headless chickens, just like me, I’m going to be pithy here today.  Here’s what I’m obsessing about this December…

Boston Pops Christmas Party album.  I am completely in love with Christmas music performed by orchestras!  At any given point during this time of year, you can catch me bopping along to “Sleigh Ride” in my car – I especially love the sounds of the horses clopping along!!  As I was creating a playlist for Christmas Day (we’re hosting!), I came across this album with some of the Boston Pops Orchestra’s best music and for $5.99 on iTunes, I couldn’t pass it up.  Since I’m still looking for some more great music to add, what are must-plays at Christmas?

 

10 Best Holiday movies.  Many of you told me what your favorite holiday movie is earlier this week and you overwhelmingly told me that Elf is #1.  I’m actually really surprised by this!!  Though I’m not sure I’ve ever watched this one in its entirety, this list sums up my Top 10 favorites with near perfect precision.  (Bad Santa isn’t one that I would ever consider on my list, however.)  Any list that includes The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Santa Clause, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Love, Actually together on one list could have been written by me!

Sparkle Pleated Skirt.  I am so far from being a girly-girl (i.e. I wear a skirt maybe once a year) but I just can’t stop thinking about this skirt!  I’m planning to wear on Christmas paired with some tights and cute suede flats (the top has yet TBD) and I seriously cannot wait to “dress up” this year.   And just so you know, until Saturday shipping is only $8 and orders are guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve!

Downtown Abbey.  Season 3 starts January 6th!!  Here is another example of “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” and if you’ve not yet watched Seasons 1 and 2, clear your schedule the week after Christmas because this show is totally addictive.  Available on both Netflix and Amazon Instant you’ll want to get caught up on a storyline that revolves around the “upstairs and downstairs” lives at Downton Abbey, the divide between a lord’s family and the house staff.  It’s set in England in the early to mid-1910s on the cusp of the Victorian Age ending and the beginning of the women’s rights movement and continuing through WWI.  I’ve already added a reminder to my calendar to set the DVR to record the whole series…I’m itching with anticipation!!

Blogging Weekend in CT
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You know the feeling you have when you’re sitting around with your best friend(s) and nothing else in the world matters because a) there are cupcakes b) there is pizza and c) there are nonstop, sidesplitting, tears-rolling-down-your-face laughs?  Yep, I had a weekend like that recently.  And it was the bestAnnie, Courtney, Elly, and Josie all came to visit me here in CT for a weekend back in October and in spite of the fact that we’ve had an perpetual Gmail thread of emails going since the winter of 2011, this was the very first time we were all able to get together at the same time.

The girls flew in on a Thursday night and we spent the following very rainy Friday morning having a late, quasi-hangover-esque (not from booze but lack of sleep) breakfast at Leo’s, my absolute favorite breakfast place in town, where beaucoup eggs, pancakes, and Belgian waffles with [pumpkin!] cannoli cream were consumed.  Kyle and I have breakfast there religiously every other Sunday morning and I was thrilled to share our little spot with people who love breakfast food as much as we do.

We spent Friday afternoon relaxing at home, perusing blogs and cookbooks, munching on Doritos and pretzel M&Ms (this was a sleepover weekend, after all) and chatting the time away before heading out for a short road trip to New York’s Hudson Valley for our evening activity.  We hit up Taste for dinner on the way to The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze where we shared an artisinal cheese platter and flatbread pizza as appetizers and I had some amazing crab cakes and truffle fries for my meal.  It was a last-minute and off-the-cuff find for us (thanks, Courtney!) but it turned out to be a pretty fabulous meal from a menu consisting of many locally sourced ingredients.

The Blaze has been on my list of Halloween things-to-do for the past 3 years but since tickets sell out quickly and Kyle isn’t a huge Halloween fan (sheesh), it just hadn’t happened yet.  But when planning this weekend, I knew this would be a perfect activity for us to do!  Think about it:  a late October night with over 5,000 jack o’lanterns set up in stunning displays lighting up the sky in a small town just a few miles away from where Washington Irving set The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  It.was.awesome.  Annie took some incredible photos and if they don’t encourage you think about being there next Halloween, I don’t know what will.

In our random 45 minute quest (small-town problems) to find dessert (priorities) following the Blaze, we actually stumbled upon Sleepy Hollow itself – yes, it’s a real town! – and I think the classical literature book-worm in her made Courtney just about screech with her excitement of our find.  Dessert was crepes al fresco on this oddly warm evening in Tarrytown and I don’t think any of us went home hungry that night.

This weekend just happened to coincide with Cupcake Camp New Haven; needless to say, there was no arm-twisting when I asked the girls if they were interested in going.  And just like the first year when I participated, this event left no empty stomachs.

I’ll let the photos do the talking here but also note that we crazily ate pizza at BAR (after our cupcake appetizers) where CCNH was held and I wouldn’t have chosen another place to have pizza in all of New Haven.  While Pepe’s and Sally’s are famous for being around for so long, BAR by far has the best pizza and it’s the favored lunch haunt of me and my work girlfriends.  Garlic mashed potato pizza with bacon?  Uh, yes freaking please.

Saturday afternoon allowed us to relax a little on the front porch while our bellies recovered from lunch and the evening consisted of a fully homemade Mexican feast that included chips and guacamole, an ahhmazing chorizo dip (coming soon!!), and some killer shrimp enchiladas made with homemade tortillas.  Dessert = more cupcakes, naturally.  Our gabfest continued into the wee hours and there were more than a few times when our laughing turned so raucous that I was sure we would wake Kyle.  That boy sleeps like a rock.

After Courtney, Elly, and Josie left on Sunday, Annie stayed for an extra day and we made excellent use of our time at a mini-cheese tasting at Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, CT (the Dairyere and Aged Bloomsday were outstanding choices to purchase), making both of our favorite chocolate chip cookies, as well as a decadent chocolate truffle tart.  Needless to say, I stocked up on veggies on the way home from dropping Annie off at the airport on Monday and puddles of sweat ensued at the gym that week.

These girls are seriously the sweetest ever and I’m so so proud to call them my closest friends.  They are stand true to themselves, love their families like no other (you should see them Facetiming with their kids!), blog with enthusiasm and integrity (and talent!!), and are the most loyal, honest, and caring of friends.  Living so far apart is a major downer for us because we’d love nothing more than to be able to spend more time together but have no doubt, we’ll be doing something like this again in the future.  Thank you, my friends, for coming to visit me in Connecticut and for putting up with a growling cat, cat messes in your bathroom, and being crammed into the back of my Jeep for 3 days.  I love you all dearly.

Note: These photos were taken by all of us and permission has been universally granted to use them for the purposes of writing this post.  All photos are still copyrighted – do not use without our permission.

Obsessed: October
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The iPhone 5.  The 5 may not be a life-changer for many iPhone users but when you’re upgrading from the iPhone 3G (like me), it’s pretty much heaven.  When I finally decided to buy it, I was pissed about having to wait 3-4 weeks for it to be shipped and my local Apple Store told me they don’t have any in stock.  So if you’re as impatient as I am, here’s a tip: Every night at 10pm, Apple releases phones on the Apple Store to be ordered and picked-up in-store the next day. They go insanely fast online so have your phone ready to be ordered when you get to page where you can choose the store for pick-up before 10pm.  It took me two nights to get this right but when I walked into my Apple Store the next morning to pick up my pretty new phone and there was a line of people asking if it was in-stock (it wasn’t), I was all the happier.

Cheese.  I have no less than 8 different types of cheese in my fridge right now.  It’s scary.  Two of them come from a local dairy farm, Cato Corner Farm, where I visited recently with Annie for a cheese tasting…more to come on this soon.  If you’re always struggling to put together a really nice cheese plate,  A Cup of Jo has some great tips.  Man, I’d kill to live just blocks away from Murray’s in NYC.  My hips, however, would rebel.

OPI You Don’t Know Jacques!  I’m a barely-there nailpolish kind of girl and my go-to color for YEARS has been OPI Bubble Bath.  But I was in line at Ulta a few weeks ago and [damn those impulse-buy racks near the register] came across You Don’t Know Jacques!  I’d like to think the name is referring to Jacques Pépin because the color is rich and almost chocolaty.  (The Daily Varnish has a great description here.)  I’m head over heels for it!

Frankenstorm.  Batten down the hatches, people, because we’re in for a major storm this week.  I do realize how easy it is for the media to over-hype storms but this morning they are saying that the effects of Sandy could be worse than Irene and Gloria…and if you’re an East Coaster, you should know to take that seriously.  Major to extreme coastal flooding is expected along the shoreline of Connecticut, winds gusting from 70-80 mph could last as long as 36 hours, and it’s possibly we could be without power for over a week. (Thank goodness for our generator – about which Kyle freaked out this morning when he decided he needed more gas cans.  Good luck trying to find them today, honey.)   This is not a storm to take lightly but we are ready and The Weather Channel has been on nonstop during the day for the past 1 1/2 days.  I’m a little weather-crazy.  And thanks to “Snowtober” last year on the exact same day (tomorrow) where we got nearly 2 feet of snow, our anniversary tomorrow will be spent hunkered down in the midst of a freak storm.

Girlfriends.  What more can I say than I love these girls dearly?  More to come on this as well…

Obsessed: September
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I did a quick “loving” post back in June about some posts from around my favorite blogs and I thought that maybe I’d start expounding a little more upon stuff going on around here, outside of the food.  Well, mostly outside of the food. ;)

I can’t get enough of this champagne cheddar from Yancey’s Fancy. It’s impossibly creamy and a little sweet…stick a piece on top of some Everything Pretzel Crisps and I’m totally hooked.  I’ve been serving it to just about all of the company who visits for the past couple of years – I hope they’re not tired of it!  The big question now is where can I get my hands on that Maple Cheddar?!  (P.S. – the Bergenost is also fan-flipping-tastic!)

L.L. Bean Wicked Plush Throw (in Mountain Red): My new best friend this fall.  I foresee lots of cold nights ahead with a book, the fireplace, and this blanket.

Are you using the Pinterest for iPad/iPhone app?  Unlike an earlier version of the app where it was impossible to do anything except look at Pins, this one now actually works!  And while we’re at it, let’s connect!

Am I the only one still bopping around to Call Me Maybe?  I guess not…since this new “spoof” just showed up on the Today Show last week (this version is better than the Today Show version).  I’ve listened to it so many times at work…and I can claim watching You Tube at work as appropriate since you know, I work at the same place the brain children are from.  And yeah, it does actually make me want to dust off my clarinet and take a few lessons!

 

I’m more than mildly obsessed with Sons of Anarchy.  Never in my life would I think that I’d find myself a puddle of anxious excitement over a show about an outlaw biker club but it helps when Jax Teller = the ultimate bad boy we hate to love.  In true FX-style, they’ve put out another awesome original series (did anyone watch The Shield? – I LOVE Michael Chiklis!) and we watched (this is almost pathetic to admit) Seasons 1-3 on Netflix and Amazon Instant late last summer in a matter of 3 weeks in order to be caught up for Season 4.  Season 5 is happening now!

We spent Labor Day weekend in Maine.  My goal (aside from eating as much lobster as humanly possible in a 3 day period) was getting my hands on a whoopie pie.  More specifically, I planned to make them before we left so that we (I) wouldn’t have to neurotically seek them out while trying to relax…but that never happened.  We did, however, plan a little trip to one of my favorite stores (see above) and I knew there was a whoopie pie shop in town.  So I got my authentic Maine whoopie pie(s) and then I made a batch of my own last weekend after going through 3 weeks of withdrawal.  Recipe and more info about the whoopie pie shop (that ships nationwide!) comin’ atcha tomorrow!

 

 

Put Down Your Burger this Labor Day and Thank the American Worker
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As the end of the American “cultural” summer draws to a close, we’re all gearing up for BBQs and back-to-school. Labor Day is celebrated (mourned?) by so many as the end of summer where we pack away our white clothes (what is this, 1964?), start thinking about prepping our yards for the first frost, and fire up the grill with a handful of friends hanging around.

It’s a glorious 3-day weekend that we’ve all come to love, but unfortunately what we really forget – me included – is that Labor Day is a time to thank and honor the American worker.  It’s a time to reflect on all we have gone through to make our jobs, and our lives, the way they are today. Before the labor movement began and formal unions emerged in the 1800s (see a fascinating timeline here), the American working conditions were a disaster: frequent and unnecessary deaths, miserable wages, ridiculously long hours.  If Kyle had been born 100 years ago, he would have been one of those workers.

It’s not something I regularly share here – have I ever? – but we’re going to share a little about Kyle today. You see, Kyle is union electrician (I.B.E.W. 488). He’s one of those guys you see around the job site wearing a larger-than-life-colored neon green or orange shirt (imagine not having to think about your work wardrobe?!), hard hat, and boots. Five to six days a week, his day begins as he strolls out the door at 5:40, Igloo lunch cooler and coffee in-hand (see his beloved “coffee bar” below, stocked and loaded for the mornings). His workday begins at 7. He breaks for coffee at 9, has lunch at 12, and packs up his tool bag at 3:25. This is what his day looks like every day; he is the epitome of the American union construction worker.

But his job is so much more than the structured schedule by which he works. As an electrician on commercial-industrial job sites, there are risks that he faces every day that I, the office worker, can’t even fathom. When we first started dating nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t have a clue as to what his work entails. What I thought he did: lights, plugs and light switches installation. What he really does: installs and wires electrical transformers, runs high voltage wires through cement walls and floors, straddles steel beams 40+ feet in the air (tethered, of course) to install pipes for wires.

And he also: wires the auto-flush toilets, the smart boards, the computer and telephone networks, the fire alarm and security networks, the air conditioning and heating systems, the kitchen equipment, scoreboards in the gym, and the clocks (!!) in your kids’ schools. He works in (i.e., builds new or renovates) hospital emergency rooms, operating rooms, and cancer centers, art galleries (yes, Kyle lead the team who installed the lights in that photo), power plants, grocery stores, schools and universities, infrastructure (railroads and bridges), shopping malls, and casinos, just to name a few.

This is what the union electrician does, what the American worker does. Our work connects us in ways we never think about, in ways that bind us and weave us all together. Each of us depends on each other’s work. And together, we are better.  So take a minute between bites of that Labor Day burger to think about the early sacrifices of the American worker that started the movement that makes our lives what they are today.

This Labor Day take the time to thank someone whose work you admire. Visit the AFL-CIO site to send a thank you card today!

Garden Update: 7.27.11
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This week’s update is a great one!  Things are happening in there as I never expected they would…gorgeous San Marzano tomatoes that have been plucked and immediately consumed, more cherry tomatoes than I think we’ll know what to do with by week’s end, and a surprise appearance that I never thought would happen.  Have a quick look and tell me about what you’re picking this week…

(From top down, left to right: San Marzano tomatoes, broccoli (!!), heirloom tomatoes, Sweet Cherry 100 tomatoes, butternut squash about 5″ long)

Wrapping Up June 2012 NaBloPoMo
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As I sit and write this, I’m still in a small state of disbelief that I am actually writing my final of 30 consecutive posts for the month of June.  NaBloPoMo has been both a fun and tiresome adventure and I can honestly say that I’m ready for a break.  Tonight’s post will be a quick one to wrap up the month and show you a little of what I’ve been doing these past two weekends.

As I mentioned last weekend, I was up in northern Vermont visiting with my best friend of 22 years and her family.  We had, as usual, a wonderful time catching up and after a dinner at El Gato Cantina in Burlington, we took a stroll along the Lake Champlain waterfront.  This certainly was a different site than my first visit to Burlington when it was -5 degrees F in early December a few years ago and I was able to soak in all the glory that is this beautiful lake.  Next time, maybe I’ll remember to bring my real camera!

And because my trip home involves a trip past the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, VT, I couldn’t pass up stopping for some lunch: Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz and Sweet Cream and Cookies in a waffle cone.  Perfection.

Before I sign off for the evening, I’d like to give so many of you a heartfelt thank you for all of your kind words of support and encouragement after my reflections post earlier this week.  Sadly, within one hour of publishing that post on Tuesday night, my grandmother passed away in her sleep.  I really did know that night as I was writing that post that her time was imminently near and I wrote it through a wall of tears.  I got that call the following morning.  Nonetheless, it was always the way she said she wanted to go and once all of our family arrives from around the country, we’ll have a memorial service for her next weekend.  Your words, words from some friends and words from some complete strangers, have helped to lift me up in ways I can’t even express.  It has been an emotionally exhausting week and I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart (and through many of the tears I have shed) for your kindness.

Kyle and I spent today on Long Island with some of my family at a quiet beach that we used to frequent all.the.time. when my brother and I were kids.  And before that, my grandparents used to rent a beach house (cabin?) there way back in the day with my mom and her siblings in tow.

Being at the beach was surely one of my grandmother’s favorite things to do and it was only fitting for us to be there today.  It was a nice day reminiscing with family, swimming, getting some sun, and putting our minds to rest for a few hours.  We head back home to CT tomorrow morning and we’ve already got a list a mile long to do on our day off on the 4th.

I hope you’ve enjoyed keeping up with me this month.  Thank you for sticking with my 30 days of posts!!

Reflections on Grief
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I’ve never written a post like this one before.  It’s always been about the food but tonight I feel like getting a few things out.

In all honesty, I haven’t felt like myself for a few weeks now.  Cloudy.  Muddled.  Neurons firing somewhere in my brain but I just feel…off.  Or maybe I’m not really feeling.  Or maybe I’m trying not to feel anything at all.

I guess it’s like that sometimes when you know you’re losing someone.  Acceptance is never an easy stage of grief to arrive at.  My grandfather (well, step grandfather, but the only one I ever knew) – Pop Pop – passed quickly: a heart attack that he never recovered from.  I loved him dearly and was lucky enough to have had the chance to tell him so after rushing to the hospital when I got the call.  After 15 years, I still miss him every single day.  Every day.

I was too young to fully understand the weight of loss when my uncle was diagnosed with melanoma in his late 30s in July of 1989.  He was gone by September.

My grandmother has been in a slow decline for about a year now.  She’ll be 93 this August.  She has outlived two husbands, a son, and a grandson.  Though no official diagnosis has been made, I believe that dementia has whiddled away at her mind and demeanor for years now.  And it was a stroke 3 weeks ago that has left her hanging on to this life by a thread.

These past three weeks have been a waiting game.  Her body will not recover and another stroke will likely take her life if starvation doesn’t first.  She’s not able to swallow and feeding tubes are not part of her advanced directives.  She’s being kept comfortable at this point.

And yet this post isn’t about feigning sympathy, it’s about trying to clear my head because there’s this one thing: my grandmother and I are not close.  An argument pushed us apart four years ago and split our once-strong relationship in two, like a lightning bolt cracks a tree trunk in half down the center.  Even after apologies were pronounced, our relationship was never the same.  I’m stressed because I don’t know how to feel.  I’ve pushed feelings of guilt and sorrow deep down inside.  I feel less about her dying than I do about the sorrow I feel for others in my life who will grieve for her when she lets go.  Perhaps I’ve come to terms with this end of life stage.  Maybe it’s easier because I’m two hours away and I’m not watching it happen.  I’m not watching her die before my eyes.  I almost feel like an outsider within my family.  It’s an ugly way to feel but at the root of it, I’m more concerned with how I’m going to help my mom get through this.  And even deeper still, I absolutely, with every fiber in my body, dread the day I have to deal with loss of one of my parents.

I’m waiting for the call to come when it’s raining.  When my Pop Pop passed, it had been storming for 6 hours straight, like a sign from above that the heavens were opening up for him, welcoming him.  I thought I would get the call yesterday; again, another stormy June day.  And I realize that is a childish way to think – to expect that something will happen one way just because it’s happened that way before.  But the call will come.  The call I’ve dreaded all these years – every time my parents call, every time my mom leaves a message, for years.  I listen to the inflection in her voice.  For a cracking in her voice.  For the slow, hesitant, deliberate voice.

Will I miss her when she’s gone?  In a way, yes.  I’ll miss the “old” grandma, the “Dodo!” I used to shout for as a toddler.  I’ll grieve for the woman she once was.  I will not miss the person she became late in life, for whatever reason (dementia or not).  I can hear the “tsk-tsking” from some of you now but I’ll say this: try not to judge me (though I won’t be shocked if you do).  Grief is a funny thing and we’re all entitled to deal with it in our own ways.  Honesty with myself in trying to understand the grief, however, is what matters most to me here.

If you’ve even read this far, you’re amazing.  I rambled – it’s a reflection upon my thought processes these days.  I’m more focused at work than I’ve been in ages and have deliberately turned off other parts of my life while simultaneously trying to clear my head and suppress how I really feel – the subconscious works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?  Thank you for reading, for allowing me attempt to clear a few things up (which I have), and for allowing me to share a bit of my private thoughts with you.  More food soon…

Keep Keepin’ On
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Three weeks down, one week left to go and I’ve come to a big conclusion so far: This writing every day-thing isn’t easy.  Sure, if I didn’t have a full-time day job and had time to devote during the day instead of at night, things would be different but that’s not how it is for me.

Two days a week I leave for work by 6am and I’m not home in the afternoon until 5:20, whereby I spent at least 30 minutes recovering from my trainer workout before cooking dinner, watering the garden, and settling down with Kyle for some TV time.  So I’ve been writing at night, usually after he goes to bed…mostly because I don’t want to take away from our time but also because the TV is finally off for the evening and I can think clearly.

But this post isn’t about me giving you the run-down of my day because it’s pretty simple: I work all day and come home to do family stuff.  And also because like me, I really don’t think most of you want to see a painstakingly created minute-by-minute account of my day (do you really need to know when I clean up the cat puke?).  I feel no need to justify my time on earth.  This is always how it’s been for me as a blogger these past 5 years.  I fit the blogging into my schedule, not the other way around, so committing to posting every day for a month has been difficult; more so because I’m actually writing every day, not scheduling posts out (not that there’s anything wrong with that because I definitely do this).

It’s also been really fun.  I’m challenging myself to think more creatively, to push my writing skills to a new level, to plan out strategies about how to write my posts well before I sit down to write them.  I’m writing quick drafts when I’m inspired by what I’m cooking or baking and then going back to revise and complete.  By committing to writing every day, I’m able to get all those jumbled blogging thoughts out of my head so that I can focus on other things.  So with just under a week left with me posting every day, I hope you’ll continue to stick with me.  As always, I’ve got a few more recipes to share with you, but also another giveaway (yay!), a garden update, and more about Blog and Bake at King Arthur Flour.  I’m up in Vermont relaxing with my best friend of 22 years this weekend and I’ll just keep keepin’ on once I return home tomorrow.  Have a great weekend!

(P.S. – I just realized that I graduated high school 16 years ago today.  Man, do I feel old!!)

A Blogging Girlfriends Weekend in Richmond
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photo courtesy of Annie

When I started Smells Like Home almost 5 years ago (this April!), I was a newlywed and I had just started to develop a love for cooking.  Actually, I should clarify; I had always loved to cook but let’s just say that I wouldn’t have made the cut for Worst Cooks in America only by a small margin.  I had a 7-meal rotation that was supplemented with pasta and sauce, toss salads, and take-out.  At this time, food blogs were in their toddler years.  David Lebovitz, David Leite, and Simply Recipes had been around a while and Smitten Kitchen was barely a year old.  For a new blogger, it was a lonely world but I was a part of newlywed cooking board where starting a food blog was becoming ever-popular…and that’s where I met AnnieCourtney, Elly, and Josie.

Over the years, we’ve bonded through our similar love for food, learned to cook and bake from each others posted recipes and advice, and developed a friendship that only few can understand.  I’ve cried for them when they have dealt with life’s most difficult moments, have cried with joy when Annie and Josie had their babies this year, and have cried when their words have supported me through times when I have been at my lowest.  (Obviously, I do a lot of crying.)  At the same time though, you can find me whooping and squealing with excitement when I read about their triumphs and accomplishments, both in real-life and blog-life.  We email everyday, several times a day, via endless Gmail threads and keep in touch via Facebook, Twitter, and texts as well.  I “talk” to these girls more often than I talk to my mom and my best friend.  They have become some of my very dearest friends and I never ever imagined that this blog would lead to me to such amazing friendships.

DSC_0097photo courtesy of Josie

I realize the point of this post was to tell you about our recent weekend in Richmond, but I felt that you needed a little background first to really understand my story about this weekend.  As you may have read last week, Courtney is expecting her first baby in a few short weeks and right before Christmas, Annie, Josie, and I (Elly wasn’t able to join us :( ) decided to surprise Courtney with a visit to Richmond to celebrate with her in real-life.  It was the kind of get together we had talked about doing for months – a group get together where we could hang out, cook, and relax with each other.

So on the Friday we planned to meet in Richmond, Courtney had no idea that I was in the car driving down from CT or that Josie and Annie were flying in with me eventually waiting at the airport in Richmond to pick them up.  (For the record, I squealed with delight when they got to my car.)  We had been in touch with Courtney’s husband, Eric, to arrange all of the details and without a clue as to what was going on, Courtney walked into Julep’s that night to find us sitting at a table, having a few drinks, waiting for her and Eric to arrive for dinner.  Her level of surprise was just awesome to see!

And from that point, our weekend took off.  We fell into a level of comfort with each other that I don’t think I had expected…it was as if our email conversations morphed without missing a single beat into real-life conversations.  Dinner at Julep’s was insane – upscale Southern food that was homey, comforting, and memorable. (See the bottom of the post for what I ate during the weekend – no photos though, sorry.)  We stayed up like college kids that night chatting until 2am – something I haven’t done since before my wedding with my bridesmaids.

DSC_0081photo courtesy of Josie

A bleary-eyed Saturday morning led us to Lulu’s, where Josie had made reservations for brunch and where we planned an informal shower for Courtney.  We had anticipated an awesome menu (because really, would a bunch of food bloggers pick a less-than-awesome menu?) but I was truly blown away by my choice, a “fancified” version shrimp and grits.  From Lulu’s Courtney took us to the Carytown district where we hit up a gorgeous Penzey’s (it was Josie’s first time!) and then walked a few blocks to the most mind-blowing chocolate shop I’ve ever encountered, For the Love of Chocolate.

photo courtesy of Annie (iPhone)

Aisle after aisle filled with virtually every kind of chocolate you could imagine.  Walls lined with glass jars of malted milk balls (swoon), chocolate covered espresso beans of all different flavors, chocolate covered pretzels, popcorn, marshmallows.  Cases lined with dozens and dozens of different types of handmade truffles, fudge, bark, and chocolate covered cherries and Oreos.  This place was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on steroids.  I circled the whole store twice and still probably missed 25% of what was there.  On my last trip around, I came upon Josie as she actually shouted her excitement to have found 4-inch in diameter peanut butter cups in at least 7 different flavors (photo below).

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Some of my loot included a smattering of different truffles (which I’m saving to celebrate the first night in our new home this weekend) and a PB&J chocolate peanut butter cup which is being portioned off day-by-day this week as a stress-reliever as I get ready for the aforementioned new home.

photo courtesy of Annie (at Whole Foods)

We spent the rest of Saturday afternoon deciding what to make for dinner at Courtney’s house that night.  And by the rest of the afternoon, I mean that 4 food bloggers spent almost 4 hours scouring cookbooks, food magazines, blogs, and websites.  It was quite an amusing process but we ended up with a grocery list at Whole Foods to pick up what we needed and then back at Courtney’s to cook a three course meal.

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It has pretty much been our collective dream to be able to cook together and I couldn’t have been more excited about our menu: baked tex-mex pimento cheese dip, a cozy chicken pot pie in honor of the snow we had that afternoon, and a nutella pound cake for dessert.  The dip (which I’ve made before) and the pot pie were outstanding.  The cake…a massive kitchen fail. Oh the irony!  You could imagine the look on our experienced baker faces when the cake got turned out of the pan.  Needless to say, no photos of the cake were taken by any of us.  Courtney, however, saved our evening because she just happened to have some of this cake sitting in the fridge.  Divine blogger intervention at its best.

DSC_0088photo courtesy of Josie

The whole night was filled with chatter about food, our families and kids, blogging, life at home and work, and so many great laughs.  At just after 3am, we left Courtney’s and headed back to the hotel where my head hit the pillow at 4am.  It was such an awesome day but as the night wore on, my sadness grew at the thought of having to leave those girls the next day.  I couldn’t have imagined the amount of fun we had had that weekend and so watching Courtney and Eric take Annie and Josie to the airport the next morning wasn’t easy.  I cried watching them leave, just as I cry when I leave my best friend’s house after a weekend visit.  These girls, without a doubt, are some of my closest friends and I miss them terribly every day.  The drive back home to CT was a long and thought-filled one.  In between the malted milk balls (don’t judge), I couldn’t help but think about how thankful I am to have these girls (and Elly too!) in my life.  I firmly believe that girlfriends are what make life so sweet and that the bond true friends have can never be broken.  Thank you Annie, Courtney, Elly, and Josie – I love you all and I can’t wait until we can do this again!

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Julep’s: Shared starters of a cheese platter and fried green tomatoes and dinner entrée of bourbon marinated pork porterhouse over sweet corn-brown butter spoon bread, fried Brussels sprouts, local granny smith apple marmalade and pork glace

LuLu’s:  Shrimp and stone-milled pimento grits served under poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, and grilled asparagus